Lately there has been a lot of talking about the user experience of a website. We want people to have fun when they visit our site. We want them to keep us in good memory, so they come back and also tell others about our great website. We try to build positive experiences that draw people in and engage them, that help us connect with our visitors and eventually guide them towards a certain attitude or action.
The experience that we offer on our website is indeed becoming increasingly important. A growing choice on the online market forces us to stand out from the crowd and offer our customers more than just a functional online platform. Now, there is one little word that is very important here: more. We cannot just go out there, unprepared, and start to create extraordinary experiences. We need to make sure first, that our website satisfies some more basic expectations.
To make sure, we don’t forget about the essentials of a usable website, let’s take a look at a selection of ten basic usability aspects. Make sure to consider them before you even get started on any mind blowing user experience.
1. Usable means functional
As I probably don’t need to recall here, the usability describes the extent to which a system can be used by a certain user to achieve certain goals. So first of all, you need to check that your system, be it a website, a mobile app, or anything else, works in a way that allows users to reach their goals.
For example, for your website you should make sure there are no dead links, that your forms are bug-free, and that any relevant content is displayed correctly. It is important that you test the functionality of your site on different devices and screen sizes, with all common operating systems, and web browsers.
2. Feedback is awesome
Feedback is an essential part of any interaction. (Source)
Feedback is an essential part of any interaction. Think about how we interact with each other in the offline world. When we say something, we expect a reaction, when we ask something, we expect an answer. We use our mimic and gesture to express emotions and thoughts, such as confusion, excitement, boredom, and much more.
When we interact with a user interface, it’s the same thing. We need responses to our actions in order to communicate successfully. We need feedback to be sure we are doing the right thing, to know that the system is bearing with us, for example while it is loading. We need clarifications if we think we are doing something wrong, and relevant instructions if we really are doing it wrong. Advanced technology can handle increasingly complex processes. Help your users to hold up by keeping them in the loop.
3. Orientation is essential
Never let your visitors get lost on your website. (Source)
When we visit a website, we usually have some kind of goal. In order to reach this goal, we choose a certain path within the website. Your task is it to make sure your users find that path and also their way back in case they took a wrong turn. You must not let your users get lost on your website.
There are many different ways how you can make sure to safely guide people through your site. For example, you can guide your users on predefined paths, offer a clear sitemap or breadcrumb navigation, or use a different look and feel for different content categories. You should also try to style your links in a way that makes it clear which one has already been visited and which hasn’t. Also, avoid to open a new page in a new browser tab by default. If people want to open a new tab, they will manage.
4. Aesthetics are important
In his book Emotional Design, Don Norman describes why “attractive things work better.”He explains how attractive products trigger our creativity and ultimately expand our mental processes, making problem-solving easier, which again makes us more tolerant of minor difficulties.
You might argue that the usability of a website has nothing to do with its look and feel, but according to Norman, this is not true at all. The design of your website can not only lead to a positive user experience, but it also helps your visitors to reach their goals more efficiently.
5. Gestalt laws: simple but powerful
Gestalt Laws are simple principles or suggestions of how different elements are perceived when combining them in a certain way or order. Gestalt Laws can for example help you to
structure your content and to create a sense of belonging together on your site. They help you to draw attention to certain elements and establish balance and stability within your design. These are all important aspects when it comes to your content presentation and finding ways to guide your visitors.
6. Images rule
We like other human faces and even follow their line of sight. (Source)
People just love images. Visuals in web design are a great way to guide attention and to deliver information. About 90% of all information that we perceive and that gets transmitted to our brains is visual. About 37% of all people are Visual-Spatial Learners, which means they can process information easier if it is presented to them in a visual way.
Besides, images are a great way to grab your visitors’ attention. Especially human faces are very effective to get your visitors engaged. Actually, we not only like to look at faces, we also follow their line of sight. When using images with faces in your design, double check where they might attract attention to.
7. Information needs to be findable
Make sure people find what they came for. (Source)
The information you offer on your site is likely to be the main reason for people to visit. Make sure you structure and name it in a way that meets your users’ expectations. A good information architecture, based on thorough user research, is an effective way to make sure people will easily find what they are looking for.
Both the way different categories and menu items are sorted is important here, but also the wording you choose. For example, if people think they know where to look for certain information, but they don’t consider the available menu items as relevant, they might give up only a click away from their desired content.
8. Information needs to be understandable
Information does not only need to be organized in a reasonable way, it also needs to be easy to digest. On the web, we usually don’t read long and in-depth articles, at least not if we are not yet sure it covers exactly the information we need. Rather, we like to quickly scan content to filter the essential points.
There are many different things you can do to improve the readability of your content and make the information you offer easier for people to scan. For example, you should use an easy-to read, sans-serif web font for longer texts and a comfortable font size of 12pt or bigger. Keep both sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Highlight relevant keywords and use meaningful headlines. Use images with informative captions to support your content.
9. Your homepage is your lobby
Your homepage is the lobby of your website. Invite your visitors in. (Source)
Usually, the homepage is the first thing people see when they visit to your website. It is essential for your users’ success that you make your homepage as relevant and actionable as possible. Your visitors should be able to already see on your homepage if it’s worth to enter your site and if chances are good that they will find what they are looking for.
This can be quite tricky, especially if you have different target groups with different interests and goals. In any case, you should offer an overview of your central products or services. If possible, allow direct access to these central content categories. Also keep in mind, that people don’t like to scroll. Place all central information and call-to-actions above the fold.
10. Forms are your reception
Make it easy for your visitors to get in contact with you. (Source)
Forms are still one of the most common ways for your visitors to get in contact with you. If you look around you will most likely find a form on almost any website. Yet, a lot of times, forms don’t live up to their potential by far. Try to make your forms simple and to the point. The easier it is for people to reach out, the more like they will do so.
Keep it short and relevant and only ask information that you really need at this initial point of contact. Make clear which data is obligated and which is optional. Place field description above the form field for clarity and don’t forget to offer meaningful error messages if a form was not filled in correctly.